Property owner, furious about BLM billboard, pressures advertising agency to remove it

Joel Brown Image
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Black Lives Matter billboard in Pittsboro being removed by Confederate flag property owner; new sign planned for Raleigh
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Black Lives Matter billboard in Pittsboro being removed by Confederate flag property owner; new sign planned for Raleigh

PITTSBORO, N.C. (WTVD) -- By Tuesday afternoon, the billboard along Tryon Road in Raleigh will be imprinted with the Black Lives Matter moniker. The all-black billboard with "Black Lives Matter" written in white lettering will be nearly identical to the one that went up in Pittsboro last month and remains a lightning rod for controversy.

"The billboards send a very strong message; as strong of a message as that Confederate flag," said Dawn Blagrove, the executive director of Emancipate NC.

'Black Lives Matter' billboard put up next to Confederate flag on US 64 in Pittsboro

It made national news in July when a community-led GoFundMe raised the money to rent the billboard on Highway 64 that stands as a welcome mat to Pittsboro; a direct answer to the massive Confederate flag that flies just a few feet away.

"So the message (of the billboard) was to implore the individuals of that town who seek to sow hatred and fear and terror amongst the citizens of that town - that Black lives do matter," said Kerwin Pittman, executive director of RREPS (Recidivism Reduction Educational Program Services,Inc).

Pittman and Blagrove, both anti-racist activists, were recruited to place the names of their nonprofits on the bottom of the billboard -- a requirement for installation.

"This was a project that was fiscally-inspired by the people in Pittsboro who were just tired and wanted to have a voice," Blagrove said.

But that voice on the main road into the Chatham County seat is about to be silenced.

Sam White, a descendant of Confederate veterans, who protested against the Chatham commissioners' decision to remove a Confederate monument from the county courthouse -- is having the billboard removed from his property.

White told ABC11 he doesn't want the Black Lives Matter message anywhere near the Confederate flag he allowed to be erected on his land in protest of the county's decision on the monument.

Over the phone, White described his angry phone call with LAMAR Advertising, the company that owns the billboard.

"You've leased land from me for two signs for 15,16 years and you're going to put up a sign against my wishes? Then when the lease expires, the sign is gone," he said he told the company. "I told them if they don't take it down September 1, they're going to hear my chainsaw running."

White said LAMAR even offered to increase its yearly rental payments to $1,000. He turned them down.

"There's some things that are a lot more important than money," White said. "The new phrase, BLM means burn, loot and murder, not Black lives matter."

Pittman's answer to White's criticism of the movement that has galvanized demonstrations against police brutality and a broader discussion of systemic racism was, "This is an individual who is deeply seeded in racism. To remove currency from your pocket because of mentions of Black Lives Matter speaks to the testament of how he truly feels."

"While we're saddened to see the billboard come down, it is a win-win for the people of Pittsboro who wanted to send a message that those Confederate flags do not represent all of them," Blagrove said.

The Black Lives Matter billboard in Pittsboro is set to come down at the end of the month.

The new billboard in Raleigh is slated to be installed on Tuesday on Tryon Road, just around the corner from the Wake Detention Center on Hammond Road -- symbolizing BLM's call for criminal justice reform.

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